Chelsea say defender Kurt Zouma is “deeply upset” after comments he made in a television interview saying team-mate Diego Costa “likes to cheat a lot” became headline news.
Costa infuriated Arsenal with his antics during the 2-0 win on Saturday that saw Gunners defender Gabriel sent off after clashing with the Spain international.
Zouma said in the post-match interview that Costa “cheats” to put his opponents off but insists Chelsea are proud to have him in the team.
The 20-year-old Frenchman told beIN SPORTS: “Everyone knows Diego and this guy likes to cheat a lot and put the opponents out of his game, and that happened in the game. He’s a real nice guy in the life and we are very proud to have him.”
A Chelsea spokesman said it was “harsh” to take Zouma’s words literally.
“It’s a bit harsh to take literally the words of a young player speaking in his second language immediately after a game,” said the Chelsea spokesman. “Kurt is deeply upset that his words have been used to attack a team-mate and a friend.”
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said he hoped referee Mike Dean would look again at Costa’s actions before filing his match report – the FA is expected to announce whether there will be any retrospective action later on Monday.
The match officials should have been aware of Costa’s reputation during his first 14 months in the Barclays Premier League, says Wenger, but statistics show the striker did not commit a foul in the match.
Gabriel became involved after Costa grappled with Laurent Koscielny, pushing the defender in the face with his hands before catching him with a flailing arm.
Jose Mourinho was seething when Costa was retrospectively sanctioned in February for treading on Liverpool’s Emre Can, part of what the Chelsea boss perceived as a “campaign” against his side which included a Sky Sports montage entitled ‘Costa’s Crimes’.
Zouma scored the first goal against Arsenal and was a tower of strength in defence – and said he is still learning from skipper John Terry, who was on the bench at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
He added: “John Terry is an example for me and a really good tutor for me and he will be there for next game – he’s our leader. Now we have to just recover our defensive organisation like we had last year – we just have to keep going and keep clean sheets.
“It was an amazing feeling for me – when you play big derbies you are always excited and for me it was an amazing game because I scored a goal and we won again. So we are very happy – with the goal, with the win and with the clean sheet as well.”
The 20-year-old French defender said Chelsea could now kick on and put their poor start to the Premier League season behind them.
Zouma said: “We don’t have pressure in the dressing room, we know who we are.
“We have had some bad results since the beginning of the season but we showed who we are and we know what we can do and we just have to keep going – and there is still a long way to go.”